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Self and Body Image

Close up of a senior couple

Receiving a palliative diagnosis may be the most difficult think that you have ever had to cope with, and it will affect so many different aspects of your life. It may feel like you might not be able to trust your body anymore, that it has let you down, that all that you understood about your body has gone, and therefore why would anyone want to touch it or want to love it? Receiving your diagnosis may cause strong emotions for both you and your loved ones and you may not feel like being close to someone if you are anxious, depressed or worried. You may have changes to how your body works or looks, you may feel tired or fragile.

Sex and intimacy, being close to people in a loving way, not necessarily a sexual way can help you to find meaning and purpose in life. Especially where the physical act of sex may not be able to happen or may have diminished in significance due to perhaps physical or emotional reasons.

Rearview of a happy elderly couple lying in each other's arms

Living with a life limiting condition may affect how you think about yourself, confidence and self-esteem levels. It will also affect your mood, and there are some days when you may feel really low, but equally other days when you feel quite positive.  As we mentioned before sexuality and intimacy closely relate to your own sense of well-being and individuality and importantly your sense of self.

Having to deal with differences in your physical self and environment may change the way you feel about sex and intimacy. Some changes could be around a lack of privacy, carers coming into your home, staying in the Hospice, fatigue, medical equipment, frequency of appointments, side effects of treatment and loss of control can all affect how you feel. Emotionally, you may feel anxious and self-conscious, and it might be difficult to think about being intimate with someone if you are living with uncertainty.

Marion and her Husband, Ian

Finding opportunities for sexual expression or intimacy may also be very difficult, with professionals, volunteers, carers, all frequently around and visiting. There may be little time for that intimacy, or even being able to snuggle together in bed. Do not be afraid to ask for that space, this time together is very important, even simply lying quietly together breathing as one can be incredibly meaningful.

There is a wonderful practice where two people can breathe together and can feel really connected, it is called co-meditation, cross breathing and sometimes mingling the breath. Here at the Hospice, we call it synchronised breathing, please ask for information on this if you would like to try it.

Developing coping strategies and talking to your support team to help manage stress and anxiety can help to build your confidence, self-esteem and importantly your identity, it might also help you to reconnect with yourself and your body.